Turnovers finally sink Shepherd, 24-21
SHEPHERDSTOWN — Turnovers led Shepherd’s opener into a post-game discussion laced with “what if’s,” “if only’s” and “man, we had that game” offerings.
Turnovers — four of them — ruined the otherwise sun-splashed afternoon at mostly-filled Ram Stadium. Ruined it for the Rams because Ohio Dominican did not commit any turnovers and could use the Shepherd mistakes to fully recover from a two-touchdown deficit, to score the game-deciding points with only 1:07 remaining.
The Panthers from the Great Midwest Athletic Conference could celebrate their immense good fortune, because Shepherd led for nearly all of the season opener for both teams, before falling victim to its giveaways and losing, 24-21.
Post-game tailgate gatherings and the light-hearted conversations at the Smallwood and Small pavilion with its hundreds of Shepherd supporters were suddenly muted by Ohio Dominican’s fourth quarter rally, which was fueled by the last of the Rams’ turnovers.
Ohio Dominican led only for the last 1:07 of the weather-perfect day. And even then, had to survive a last-minute Shepherd drive that reached the Panther 39, where the game’s last pass went incomplete in the front of the Ohio Dominican end zone.
Penalized only three times for 20 yards, the Rams did just about everything — except win. And since winning is just about everything, the day was unsuccessful for them.
Both teams relied almost exclusively on their respective pass offenses to move the ball.
Shepherd’s Tyson Bagent completed 30-of-43 throws for two scores and had one interception. The Panthers’ Evan Ernst never varied with his short passing game, completing 31-of-39 throws for 273 yards without any interceptions.
Wide receivers covered themselves with receptions with Shepherd’s Rodney Dorsey (seven catches and a touchdown) and Devin Phelps (six catches and a 40-yard TD grab), leading the Rams and David Turner (10 catches for 61 yards) being Ernst’s most-used target.
A 14-0 Shepherd lead was eaten into by a 33-yard field goal from the Panthers’ Kevin Laming with little time remaining in the first half.
When the Panthers’ Devanaire Conliffe bolted down the sideline in front of his animated bench to score at the end of his 77-yard catch-run, Shepherd’s lead was reduced to 14-10.
But Dorsey’s 18-run through would-be tacklers with a short Bagent swing pass, brought Shepherd’s lead back to 21-10.
That’s when Shepherd’s turnover problems struck full force . . . and eventually turned the verdict in Ohio Dominican’s direction.
The game’s last 14 points — all in the Panthers’ corner — followed Shepherd fumbles. Fred Pitts scored on a five-yard run and then with 1:07 showing on the fading clock, Conliffe bruised his way in with a five-yard pass from Ernst.
The smoke rising from the grills and cookouts could have been smoke from the burning of the last of Shepherd’s lead.
Turnovers took the leading role in the outcome, and made Shepherd’s puzzled looks all the sadder.